10 Minute Vegetarian: The Health Benefits Of A Plant-Based Diet

Posted Mon, 02/22/2010 - 1:15pm by Denise Reynolds

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There are many reasons to choose a plant-based diet, but probably one of the most beneficial reasons is for your own personal health. A vegetarian diet, or even a “less-meatarian” diet, can have many positive health effects.

Lower Cholesterol

High cholesterol and heart disease are less common in vegetarians. Way back in 1988, The Surgeon General made the statement that “1.5 million deaths per year in the US are from diseases associated with diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol.” Well-planned vegetarian meals can be very low in both saturated fat and cholesterol. A vegan diet, that contains no animal products at all, has no cholesterol. But beware — just because it’s vegetarian does not automatically mean “low fat” or “low calorie.” Sugar, for example, is vegetarian, but too much can cause weight gain which can lead to heart-related consequences. Dairy products also, if included, can come in varying degrees of total and saturated fat, so choose wisely.

Lower Blood Pressure

Vegetarian diets have a positive effect on lowering blood pressure. There are several theories for this. First, people who eat high fat meats and dairy products have a increase in the viscosity of the blood which places more pressure on the blood vessels. Many vegetables and fruits are also high in potassium, one of the main guidelines in the DASH diet that has been shown to reduce blood pressure. And finally, vegetarians who focus on fresh foods, and avoid packaged and convenience foods, also typically have a diet that is lower in sodium.

Diabetes Control

Again, this benefit is most seen in vegetarian diets that are well-planned for nutrients such as whole grains, fibrous legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Controlling calories is just as important to a diabetic regimen as controlling carbohydrates, so meals should take into consideration portion control and proper foods to prevent both high blood sugar and weight gain.

Cancer Prevention

The American Cancer Society recommends a plant-based diet for cancer prevention. Fruits and vegetables are not only low in fat and high in fiber, but they also contain high amounts of antioxidants, which many have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. The most researched forms of cancer that may be prevented with a vegetarian diet include breast cancer, colon cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Breast cancer, for example is much lower in countries where plant-based diets are more common. Colon cancer and pancreatic cancer both seem to be more of a factor in regular meat eaters.

Gallstone and Kidney Stone Prevention

Diets high in animal protein cause the body to excrete more calcium, oxalate, and uric acid which are the main components of urinary tract stones. High fat diets are often implicated in the formation of gallstones.

These, of course, are not the only health benefits of eating less meat and more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Osteoporosis, gout, arthritis, obesity and other chronic health conditions can be prevented or relieved with a health, balanced vegetarian diet.

This is a part of my ongoing series, 10 Minute Vegetarian. I’m busy, you’re busy. We want to be healthy, but we don’t have a lot of time. In the 10 minutes it takes you to read this article, you can learn something about the health benefits of the vegetarian diet and how to implement it in your own hectic schedule.

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